Recent health research and innovation policies have encouraged academic biomedical scientists to engage research commercialization and collaborations with the health products industry. These activities of `academic entrepreneurship' have been valued for their ability to produce social, economic, and health impacts. However, these initiatives have also been met with concern for their potential to create conflicts of interest. This study examines how publicly-funded academic biomedical scientists in Canada value the activities of academic entrepreneurship and manage conflict of interest concerns. Drawing on neo-institutional theories, this research explores the institutional logic of entrepreneurial science, and the micro-level negotiations of `institutional work' conducted by academic entrepreneurs in legitimizing entrepreneurial initiatives.
This mixed-methods study draws from a national survey of publicly-funded biomedical researchers (n = 1,618), and in-depth interviews with 24 academic entrepreneurs and 14 trainees. Analyses indicate that the institutional logic of entrepreneurial science tends to be positioned as distinct to academic science, though this logic is heterogeneous. Exploring entrepreneurial scientists' institutional work in valuing and navigating entrepreneurial activities, normative value is generated in these activities through proposals of their contributions to scientific processes and downstream clinical and societal impacts. Entrepreneurial scientists simultaneously claim adherence to academic norms, and use these to legitimize their entrepreneurial engagements. In navigating entrepreneurial activities, entrepreneurial scientists engage in strategies to maintain academic activities alongside entrepreneurial ones, and claim to avoid conflicts of interest.
In an environment of overall skepticism and uncertainty about academic entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial scientists engage in institutional work processes of change-through-maintenance, where appeals to the maintenance of academic norms serve to legitimize entrepreneurial activities. As entrepreneurial initiatives proceed in academic biomedical science and are legitimized by entrepreneurial scientists, this study calls for a need to scrutinize and regulate these initiatives, especially as potential conflicts of interest and their impacts tend to be obfuscated.